No company has been more supportive of the Democratic National Convention than Charlotte-based Duke Energy. And few people have been as supportive of the party as Duke Chairman Jim Rogers.
But this week a Democratic group rejected Duke’s request to pull a TV ad attacking Republican gubernatorial candidate Pat McCrory, a former Duke employee.
The ad questions his ethics while invoking his ties to the utility.
“We’re disappointed with the ad,” said company spokesman Tom Williams. “It seems to have a lot of innuendo.”
The ad began airing last week in Raleigh and other North Carolina markets, though not in Charlotte. It’s expected to run at least another week.
The spot is part of an early surge of TV ads in the race between McCrory and Democratic Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton. The ads reflect the high stakes and interest in the contest to replace Democratic Gov. Bev Perdue.
The Republican Governors Association has spent more than $1 million in a state they view as a top pick-up opportunity.
Last month both sides went to court over an earlier ad that implied McCrory had a conflict of interest for his role on a corporate board.
The latest ad is sponsored by North Carolina Citizens for Progress, a group funded in part with $1 million from the Democratic Governors Association.
“We’re not going after Duke,” said Raleigh attorney Michael Weisel, a spokesman for the nonprofit Citizens for Progress.
Group ‘not condemning Duke’
In the ad, the group’s second against McCrory, Charlotte’s former and longest-serving mayor, a narrator intones: “Pat McCrory’s questionable ethics. Case number two. Duke Energy.”
As mayor, it says, McCrory refused to divulge how much he was paid and how much he worked for Duke. It says he testified before Congress “about a regulation worth $600 million to the company, and then flew home on their corporate jet.”
McCrory was as close to a full-time mayor as Charlotte has had. While he juggled that with his Duke job, neither he nor supervisors at Duke would disclose how many hours he worked or how much he earned. The company gave him wide latitude while he used his status as mayor to help woo corporate customers.
The ad also references McCrory’s 1997 testimony to Congress against proposed air-quality standards as environmental chairman for the U.S. Conference of Mayors. He and other critics called it an unfunded mandate that would cost cities and companies hundreds of millions.
Duke said at the time it would have had to spend $600 million to install new emission controls at its coal-burning plants. “The ad very clearly makes the point that Pat went to Washington to take action on behalf of Duke Energy,” says McCrory spokesman Brian Nick. “He was testifying on behalf of the U.S. Conference of Mayors (and) their constituents.”
Records show McCrory did fly home on Duke’s corporate jet, which he reported to the city.
But Weisel says McCrory failed to disclose his employment with Duke.
“It’s relevant that Pat McCrory testified on something that potentially impacted his employer without disclosing that he worked for them,” Weisel said. “We’re not condemning Duke. It’s Pat McCrory who is responsible for his disclosures, not Duke.”
Weisel and his group are attempting to build a case for what they see as a pattern of conflicts of interest. In 2007, he said, McCrory again failed to disclose his work for Duke when he testified to Congress about energy on behalf of the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
Nick said the mayors group gave lawmakers copies of McCrory’s biography, which included the name of his employer.
“It was always public information who Pat worked for and any corporate board Pat sat on,” Nick said. “They don’t have anything except all these things that they’re trying to cobble together and trick people.”
Said Weisel: “North Carolina Citizens for Progress is presenting facts. How those facts are interpreted and what the implications are is for the viewer to decide.”
Duke and the DNC
Duke would seem an unlikely antagonist for Democrats.
Duke Energy Corp. has given the Democratic Governors Association $405,000 during this election cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. It gave the Democratic convention a $10 million line of credit.
And while its chairman, Jim Rogers, gives to candidates of both parties, he has donated nearly $59,000 to the national Democratic Party since 2008. He also co-chairs the city’s convention host committee.
“It’s kind of questionable why they would use a company that’s been so supportive of the convention in an attack ad when there are already questions about the credibility of trying to link McCrory to lobbying initiatives on behalf of Duke,” said Michael Bitzer, a political scientist at Catawba College. “Maybe one hand doesn’t know what the other hand is doing.”